How to play “House of the Rising Sun” on guitar

"House of the Rising Sun"
Traditional American folk song
Canzone folk tradizionale americana
Authorless / Autore ignoto
Free interpretation by Antonio Bonifati aka Farmboy
Libera interpretazione di Antonio Bonifati alias Farmboy

"The House of the Rising Sun is apparently only about a brothel
 in New Orleans, but this song has became the mirror of life."
-- Farmboy

To be played with a pick. One guitar can easily play both melody and chords.
Other instruments (e.g. piano, harmonica, fiddle) can duplicate the melody.
This piece is a great exercise in both strumming, picking and horizontal
hand-moving. For the latter it may take you a while to be able to do it
precisely and in time. Keep practicing, it will come natural in time because of
muscle memory. Since there are no barré chords, there isn't any difficulty in
fretting and you can concentrate on moving hands. The entire song is build on
a partial 6-note scale and two chords only, although the are two versions of
them: low and high in pitch.

so la ti  re mi fa so
  T  T  3S  T  S  T

    |-----|-----|5re-4| <-- use finger 3 for a pivot point to quickly switch to So.
    |-----|4la-2|-----|     I can't quite separate my middle from my ring finger
4re |-----|-----|-----|     so I use my pinkie (4) here and switch to So by moving
    |-----|-----|-----|     it one fret down.

    |-----|-----|5re-3| <-- we need this note for the melody
4so |-----|-----|-----|
4re |-----|-----|-----|

Re- (higher-pitched)
This is the 4-string version of the Re- barré chord
in 5th position.
    |-----|-----|-----|-----|5la-1|-----|-----| <-- melody note
4re |-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|-----|
                     3           5           7
                                             you guitar should have
                                             at least a marke here

So (higher-pitched)
                     3           5           7
This is the 4-string version of the So barré chord
in 3rd position.

Just a very simple down-and-up arpeggio of the Re- chord, repeated two times:

4re-f la-mp re 5fa re 4la (x2)


When you see (skip) optionally skip that note or chord, letting the previous
ring for the duration of the skipped note. But it is easier to not skip anything,
so you always play the same. You just have to remember which sentence starts with
which note, which will come easy once you sing the song a few times.

In plain words: start with a Re- shape. Hit the bass re note, then strum the
three strings below down, then pick the 2nd string up for a central re, then a
full 4-string chord Re-. Switch to So, hit the bass note, then strum down the
five strings below. Pick the 2nd string up for a central re and end with a full
So chord (strum down all six strings).

         Re-/La           Re-        So/Ti        So

                                     5so          4so
                          5re        5re          4re
         5fa              4la        4re          3ti
         5re              4re        3ti          3so
4re      la      5re      5fa   3so  4so    5re   re

There    is      a        house in   New    Or-   leans
And_it's been    a        ruin  of   many_a poor  boy
My       mo-     ther     was   a    tai-   lor,  (skip)
My       fa-     ther     was   a    gam-   blin' man,
Now      the_on- ly       thing a    gam-   bler  needs,
And      the_on- ly       time  he's sa-    ti-   sfied
Oh       mo-     ther     tell  your chil-  dren  (skip)
Spend    your    lives_in sin   and  mi-    se-   ry
Now,     I've    got      one   foot on_the plat- form,
I'm      get-    tin'     back  to   New    Or-   leans

Now switch to a more high-pitched Re- (Re- (H)) on fifth position and also sing
higher. Hit the 4th string hard for a bass note then strum down the three
strings below. Then pick the 1nd string up for la and quickly switch to the So
(H) 4-string chord in 3rd position and strum it down. While switching back to
Re- in 1st position, hit the 1st string open for a mi and then strum down a
full Re-. Add the 1st string and another Re-

       Re- (H)       So (H)       Re- (L)    Re- (L)

                     5re          5fa        5fa
       5fa           4ti          4la        4la
       5re           4so          4re        4re
4re    5la    la     so    mi     re      fa re

They   call   the    Ri-   sing   Sun.
And    me,    oh     God,  I'm    one.
She    sewed  my     new   blue   jeans. /s@Ud/
Is_a   suit-  case   and   a      trunk. /"su:tkEIs, "sju:-/
Is     when   he's   on    a      drunk.
To     wear   that   ball  and    chain.
Not_to do     what   I     have   done.   (only bottom 3 strings, fast)
The    o-     ther   foot  on_the train,  v ^ v ^ v
(skip) Down   in     New   Or-    leans.
In_the house  of_the Ri-   sing   Sun.

Then repeat the INTRO arpeggio to fill space between verses (but only one time):

4re-f la-mp re 5fa re 4la


The 1st beat hit the root note of the chord (lowest chord note). All chords in
other beats, very fast tempo, so that you hit only the bottom three strings and
you stroke a Mi-/So up while changing from Re- to so-ti bichord.
Since you hit only the lowest so note and last three strings, you do not need
to fret the whole So chord, that is move your finger 1 up to fret at 3ti.
Anyway you may want to fret it anyway to avoid a dissonance just in case you
happen to strike the 5th string a bit as well (which is not bad, because they
are consonant anyway). BTW for this very fast strum I prefer to use a thinner
pick and keep it as far as possible from the strings, hitting the strings with
its tip, so that the pick does not jam into the string given its high speed.

5mi |-----|-----|-----|
4ti |-----|-----|-----|
4so |-----|-----|-----|
     Re-          |  So
la-2 v ^ v ^ v ^  ^  so v ^ v ^ v ^ (x2)
           4ti |-----|-----|-----|
           4so |-----|-----|-----|

Then the INTRO arpeggio again. At the beginning it may be difficult to hit the
low note of the arpeggio right after the strumming. Watch your hands and after
a few tries you will do timely. BTW this whole song can be played and sung
crouched on the guitar. Put a hat on, so they will not realize you are watching
the guitar neck and it look good.

On the last arpeggio of the last CHORUS slow down to end.
Let the last note (4re) ring keeping the chord pressed until decay.